Cold War

Well I didn’t think I could beat Mondays outing in the Scottish hills, but yesterday definitely came close, perhaps even took the overall medal!

On Wednesday night after two days of resting and eating, to try and make myself feel a little less zombified, I jumped in the car with James and Neil Carnegie and headed for Costa del Loch Muick car park for a few hours shut eye in the tent before a 4:45am start.

I was meeting up with Guy again to make the most of the awesome weather and conditions we’ve been getting this week before it crapped out at the weekend. We took bikes on the off chance that the Land Rover track might be cyclable, and thankfully apart from some icy sections, we were able to ride all the way to the bothy with only one or two deep snow diving experiences.

Guy, James and Neil making the most of the easy walking conditions

Guy, James and Neil making the most of the easy walking conditions

After that it was time to get our wade on! The path was buried in a frustrating amount of different snow conditions, one moment you’re wading through knee deep powder, then you’d get to some solid névé where you’d get all excited and lured into a false sense of security, 5 minutes later whilst strolling off at high speed… POW, the crust breaks and you’re up to you waist in a fluffy deep cold pit. Not so fun to say the least! It was bliss to eventually reach the loch. The crag had partially come into view through the looming mist and was looking about as wintery as it gets, and the loch was almost fully frozen over. This made for perfect walking conditions on the icy surface around the left hand side, which was a nice change from our booby trapped first half of the walk in.

James and Neil continuing for pastures new

James and Neil continuing for pastures new

James and Neil continued along the loch in search of some ice filled adventures and Guy and I headed up hill to the base of the very loaded and scary looking easy gully.

As we geared up, the cloud never really lifted and only glimpses of our route could be caught between fumbling with harnesses and trying to stuff food in our mouths ready for a day of nerve induced starvation. Guy proceeded to consume a full wedge of pure brie which was quite impressive, and made a change from his bean and cheese pasties that usually came along on these outings. The food of winter climbers is never boring!

After our cultural and inventive snacks, we set off up the arduous and scarily snowy lower ground, soloing to the base of our route.

Guy starting up the new first pitch.

Guy starting up the new first pitch.

Over the past three seasons I have made the long approach into the Dubh Loch seven times with our intended route in mind. Three of those times I have climbed alternative routes, three times I have left without doing anything due to conditions, and one time I just walked in on a rest day to see what the conditions might be like for the following day. I have only ever seen the route in “full winter condition” once out of those seven visits and that one time the temps where too high and everything was melting fast! But finally we were there and so was the route. The winter was there, hanging from the crag in the form of sharp long curtains of ice and crisp straggly tufts of turf all covered in a flood of snow and hoarfrost. It was game on!

We were going to war, “Range War” to be precise. Info from friends told us that it was a turfy wet and dirty E4 in summer. They also said that it would lend itself very well towards being a very good and hard modern day mixed adventure. So obviously we put ourselves forward for the challenge.

Guy pulling through the tricky roof on pitch one

Guy pulling through the tricky roof on pitch one

We had spied an alternative, new, winter-only line to the left for the first pitch which led us to the same stance higher up and looked much more like the obvious winter challenge of steep turfy plumes and technical roof capped corners. Guy took this pitch and after some shouts of how good the moves were through the shielding mist and some funky maneuvers to breach the roof, he finally shouted “SAFE” and brought me up. I stopped on a ledge just before the corner to snap a pic as I hadn’t had a good view of it below and then proceeded to enjoy the moves just as much as Guy had. The pitch was the perfect warm up both mentally and physically for the next pitch and main event.

The roof capped corner from another angle

The roof capped corner from another angle

By this time the cloud and mist had begun to clear away and the whole coire came into view. I could see the sun hitting the route that James and Neil were on, then as I focused on the game at hand, my attention turned to the next pitch.

The cloud cleared and the remainder of the sun lit up Eagle Rocks

The cloud cleared and the remainder of the sun lit up Eagle Rocks

It was a steep, hanging wall leading to a niche capped by a roof. The wall was smeared with hanging icicles and above the niche there was an ice curtain enticingly hanging over a higher a large overlap. I was nervous! Three years I’ve been coming to try this route and now it was time to step up and give it a shot. But it looked hard, and more to the point, the pitch looked long and sustained. Thoughts of still being fatigued from Mondays adventure plagued my head and whether or not I’d be able to hold onto the technical looking wall long enough to get adequate protection. I wasn’t really in the mood to repeat Mondays bold and scary lead any time soon.

Me getting my head in gear

Me getting my head in gear

But I was there now, stood below one of the best looking pitches of climbing I had ever seen, with a psyched partner and some amazing weather, it would have been rude not to at least have given it the respect of trying, even if failure was the consequence.

Gaining the pumpy and trying to get recovered

Gaining the pumpy and trying to get recovered

I surmounted the first pedestal and took a deep breath. “No down-climbing this time” I told myself, to try and preserve energy on this monster of a pitch. I started up with every move nudging my thoughts into the correct headspace, and found myself enjoying every second of the experience. I composed myself and tried not to let the technical torques and moves get one arm more pumped than the other. I continued up and then the pump started to sneak in. I was shaking and looking for the next move, shaking and looking, this process went on until I decided to charge for the niche that looked like it would be home to a nice comfortable rest. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, the routes steepness was deceptive and although the niche wasn’t as steep as the lower wall, it was still well overhanging. I fought to get some gear in and try and de-pump my now burning forearms, deep egyptians and contortions were tried to relive my arms and finally once I had scoped what looked like the way to sanctuary, I powered on through the steep capping roof of the niche to gain a wild and astonishingly exposed position on the overhanging arête. Hundreds of meters of cliff dropping away below me with nothing but air between me and the coire floor. This is a memory that will last a lifetime!

The evening view from the belay

The evening view from the belay

After that it was out onto and over the ice-capped overlap and into a position below another steep ice smothered bulge. At this point the head games had returned, I really didn’t want to blow it at this point but the next section of climbing was not too hard but very off balance and with only a turf hook half hammered into the capping ice, as there wasn’t enough for screws (which we did remember this time), I had thoughts of fluffing it and taking the ride into the exposure in the back of my head as I committed. Eventually I gained easier ground and the comfort of the ice cave where I belayed and took in the exposure in a more comfortable state.

Guy seconding with the exposure booming below him

Guy seconding with the exposure booming below him

The usual cries of enjoyment and beaming smiles were found as Guy seconded the pitch, and as I was belaying him up, I recounted almost every move in my head and was unbelievably psyched to climb what was definitely one of the best and varied pitches I have ever been on!

By the time Guy had reached the cave belay the weather had rolled in and the spindrift and wind were howling down the crag, he grabbed a handful of gear and raced on upwards over the flowing blue ice and eventually to the top of the crag and I finished off the route with a screaming ice-cream headache and a mouth full of wind-propelled powder snow. Some might say this is the best way to finish a big winter day in Scotland, in my opinion, they’re wrong!

Guy moving away into a world of spindrift and wind

Guy moving away into a world of spindrift and wind

Once at the top we sorted the ropes and congratulated ourselves on doing the route that we had both been pining over for the last three years, and what a route it was!

We trotted back to the base of the coire and down to our bags via a pretty big detour due to the copious amounts of scary snow and loaded slopes, then it was off across the loch and back to the snowy path. We were hoping our tracks from the approach and James and Neil’s tracks out would still be nice and firm and showing for our swift exit, but the wind had drifted tones of new snow across and it was back to the booby-trapped trail breaking all the way back to the bikes.

It was a long and tiring day by the time we got back to the car, but by gumble it was well and truly worth it!

 Range War (winter variation) ***********

Grade- X/10

Coire an Dubh Loch

Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell (on-sight)

The Greatest Show On Earth

Finally, some good weather!

I’ve been out in the mountains a couple of times since my last post, but I’ve had my head set on bigger projects this season that are going to take me a bit longer than usual, so unfortunately I’ve not really had anything worth writing about. Also with the weather being very bad since the New Year, I’ve mostly been putting in multiple hours of training on my board, trying to make gains and stay fit in preparation for when the conditions eventually get better!

Walking in with the sun turning everything pink

Walking in with the sun turning everything pink

But yesterday it all came together and all the waiting and training seemed to have paid off!

 

With projects put on hold for the moment, I picked Guy up from Inverness on Sunday evening and we continued north. With all the snow on the ground and the very low freezing levels, our psyche levels were through the roof and we were eager to see what the mystical Scottish hills were going to throw at us the following day.

 

Guy approaching the gear stash point

Guy approaching the gear stash point

I had no real idea of where we were going, Guy had told me where it was but I didn’t know the area very well, but he sealed the deal with the words “It’s a big unclimbed wall with a huge roof at the bottom”, what more could I ask for!

We set off yesterday morning in the dark and as the sun was starting to shed it’s first light on the surrounding hills, we had nearly arrived at our intended gear stashing spot. It was hard to drag ourselves away from taking photos and actually gear up, as the colour of the sky and the view were completely out of this world! We eventually got ready and trotted down the steep turfy slope to the base of the big and very intimidating buttress that we intended to climb.

What a view

What a view

 

We were on Cul Mor, and Guy was pointing us towards a very cool looking wall in Coire Gorm. On our way over to the base of the wall, it was very obvious which line I thought we should focus our attention on. The whole lower third of the face was masked in a wave of hanging icicles and smooth fat columns, then came the roof, which stretched the length of the buttress and my arms started to ache just thinking about trying to get over it!

Our intended line was going to cross the roof not at its smallest point, but at the point where we could reach an immaculate looking hanging turfy corner in the upper wall above. There was an obvious line of hanging icicles and smears, so we decided to try our luck there!

Gearing up at sunrise

Gearing up at sunrise

Amazing light over the hills

Amazing light over the hills

Guy took the first pitch, which was entirely on thick ice and massive frozen turf blobs, which was made more interesting by the fact that we didn’t take any screws with us, to reach a belay below the start of the very steep ground and got nestled in for the long haul. After I had seconded up the first pitch and tried to suppress the nervous butterfly party that was raving on in my stomach, we decided that I might as well have a look, but neither of us were overly convinced that the crazy steep next pitch would even be climbable let alone have any worth while gear on it, however, one can but try. So I did.

Reaching the wall

Reaching the wall

Guy starting up pitch one

Guy starting up pitch one

After climbing up the initial hanging ice column I was starting to feel a little more in the zone for hard climbing, but I was yet to find any gear. I eventually got two upside-down turf hooks in an icy crack and told myself that if they happened to cam themselves if I fell off, then they might stop me, or at least they’d slow me down.

Me seconding the first icy pitch

Me seconding the first icy pitch

The ground above me was made up of what looked like big, overlapping semi-detached blocks that I was definitely going to have to yard on to get myself through the steepness. The only gear placements above me looked to be in the back of these blocks, and there was no way I was committing to this type of climbing with my back up gear being two crappy upside-down hooks! But after some up and down climbing and not finding anything, I decided to get a higher runner that might cam one of the blocks to the wall rather than rip it off, if I was to fall. I then retreated down a bit and gathered myself. Back up again and I managed to sling a very small spike on the same block, I then pulled up to see if I could see a way to go over the roof, but as I leaned back and craned my head to look over, a huge plume of spindrift hit me in the face. I heard Guy uncontrollably giggle from below. It was an outstanding day on a huge cliff and the only damn spindrift anywhere decided to come down right on my face at the exact time I was totally pumped and happened to look over the roof, to be fair it was pretty funny!

Me reaching the belay below the roof

Me reaching the belay below the roof

I frantically retreated back to the semi-rest point and tried to gather my thoughts. I just wanted it to be over, the climbing was tiring me out a lot with every attempt to find gear and through my spindrifty shower, I couldn’t see any way to breach the roof and gain the wall above. Ahhhh the joys of head games!

Me setting off into the steepness

Me setting off into the steepness

I opted for one last look as I new I wasn’t going to have many more down-climbing goes left in my arms. I reached my high point and frantically stuffed in a cam, I gave it a tug and it popped out, so I turned it around and the smaller lugs bit a little better on a small flake, I was too pumped to give it another check so I pulled up on a tiny Ice smear over the roof. By now I was well up above the belay and with very little, and all of which being marginal, gear stopping me from zooming past the belay and onto the huge ledge below. Despite this, once I was fully committed and beyond the point of no return, the big fall and dodgy gear left my thoughts completely, I was well and truly focused on the climbing at hand, that was the only way I’d prevent myself from testing Guy’s first aid skills!

Guy pulling over the roof on the crux pitch

Guy pulling over the roof on the crux pitch

Guy making progress seconding the crux pitch

Guy making progress seconding the crux pitch

I got a little flustered when I couldn’t see a way above the roof and my only axe placement in the thin smear started to slip, but I was committed now, so I had to force myself to calm down, I looked around, took some deep breaths and opted for some very powerful and dynamic moves to get myself out of that situation. Unfortunately all it did was take me further away from my so-called gear and into some of the boldest and most technically difficult moves on marginal placements that I’ve done. All I remember saying to myself was “Breath, just breath”!

I rocked up over the lip of the roof on the tiniest of footholds, praying that it didn’t blow off, and eventually found myself in a semi rest but very off balance position. I struggled to hammer in and clip a turf hook, which surprisingly felt like I’d just clipped a bolt, as long as I didn’t rip the turf off the wall, the hook felt bomber. It’s always funny when you think back, a blob of probably very badly rooted turf to a rock face is your best runner on one of the hardest routes you’ve done, oh the joys of the magical Scottish mountains.

Guy starting what was to be an outrageously fun pitch

Guy starting what was to be an outrageously fun pitch

After composing myself again, I slowly teetered upwards and finally felt the addictive rush of joy you get when you know you’ve basically just gone all or nothing and managed to scrape through by the skin of your teeth!

Me looking up pitch three to Guy whilst seconding

Me looking up pitch three to Guy whilst seconding

Once at the belay, I eventually managed to get a rope to Guy so that he didn’t need to climb the pitch with the added weight of the rucksack, and once I’d pulled it up, he got stuck into seconding what was, despite the seriousness of it, one of the most enjoyable hard pitches I’ve climbed in winter in Scotland!

Me seconding pitch three

Me seconding pitch three

The upper pitches of the route were also worthy of four star status and Guy made a good comment; they felt like a reward for all the effort we’d put in to get passed the crux pitch. They weren’t super hard, but more than hard enough to keep things interesting and outrageously fun.

The sun is off to bed as night skies roll in

The sun is off to bed as night skies roll in

After the harder climbing was over it was a hundred or so meters of easy soloing to the top and eventually the summit before heading back to our bags and on to the van.

The last tricky section before the solo mission to the top

The last tricky section before the solo mission to the top

The obligatory summit shot.

The obligatory summit shot.

It was an awesome day and I had fun climbing in a new area, and to make it even better I managed to onsight one of the hardest pitches I’ve done in Scotland and climb a new four star route with what might be one of the best views I’ve ever seen! (We named the route in relation to the view from the crag)

The weather looks like its staying good this week, so hopefully there’ll be more of this to come!

 

The Greatest Show On Earth ****

Cul Mor

Grade – X/10

FA, Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell (onsight)